Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Picoult – Jodi’ Category

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

I was intrigued by the idea of the main character in Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways having the opportunity to live two versions of her life in parallel.

In the beginning of both versions of her life, Dawn was a death doula and married to Brian, a quantum physicist. Together they had a daughter, Meret. As a death doula Dawn took on clients who were dying, assisting them and their families to tidy up their loose ends before their death. The loose ends were often practical, such as arranging a funeral or helping them to finish a task they had their heart set on, but other times they were to fulfill a more emotional need, such as finding someone the dying person had lost contact with or helping them to make peace with their impending death. Before her marriage, Dawn was a graduate student Egyptologist.

For Dawn, a man called Wyatt was the one who got away in both versions of her life. She had left him fifteen years before the story began, when he was on the brink of a major archaeological discovery in Egypt.

In one of the storylines Dawn survived a plane crash and when her life flashed before her eyes she saw Wyatt. She had recently lost trust in Brian and their marriage and when the airline offered her a plane ticket to anywhere in the world she impulsively decided on Egypt and travelled to the archaeological burial site where she had left Wyatt fifteen years previously. Dawn’s intention was to reconnect with Wyatt and complete her degree.

Dawn’s theory was that the artwork which was on, in and around the ancient coffins in the burial sites she was working on were a guidebook for the ancient Egyptians’ afterlives, or The Book of Two Ways. The descriptions of the tombs, their art and artifacts, the coffins and even the mummies themselves featured heavily in this story.

In Dawn’s parallel life she stayed with Brian and instead of her travelling to Egypt to complete her work, the story followed her life with her family in Boston and her work as a death doula, which I found to be more interesting than her Egyptian parallel life. Dawn’s backstory with Wyatt and her reasons for leaving him were addressed differently in this version of her life to the ‘Egypt’ version.

The Book of Two Ways reminded me a little of the movie Sliding Doors, where after an accident Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lived her life in parallel with both stories meeting towards the end.

I felt the story was bogged down by too many stories about Egyptian mythology. At first I found them fascinating but there were so many that I became overwhelmed and eventually lost interest, skimming past them to get back to the actual story, which was what was going on with Dawn. Funnily enough, Dawn’s character glazed over whenever her husband started talking about quantum physics!

I generally enjoy Jodi Picoult’s stories so am hoping for one I like better next time.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

leavingYou always know where you are with a Jodi Picoult novel, reading about some terrible dilemma or other and trying to guess the twist. They are almost comfort reading.

I did guess the twist in Leaving Time about half way through, and texted my guess to Honey-Bunny, who had already read this book. She very wisely didn’t respond, leaving me to enjoy the rest of the story without being completely sure of myself or the author.

Leaving Time follows the story of Jenna Metcalf, who has been searching for her mother, Alice, for over ten years. Alice was a scientist who studied grieving elephants. She disappeared after a terrible accident (or possible murder?) at the family’s elephant sanctuary, when an employee was trampled by one of the elephants. Jenna’s father has been in a mental asylum since the accident, which happened when Jenna was a toddler.

Jenna lives with her grandmother, who refuses to talk about Alice with Jenna. Eventually Jenna starts to actively search for her mother, using the services of Serenity Jones, a once celebrated psychic who had her own television show, and Virgil Stanhope, a former police officer. Virgil originally investigated the accident at the elephant sanctuary.

The novel is told by all of the characters in turn, Jenna, Serenity, Virgil, and Alice. Alice’s chapters tell the history of Jenna’s search, from when she first met Jenna’s father in Africa and fell pregnant, to when she came to live at his elephant sanctuary in New England. Alice’s story is mixed in with the findings from her research and examples of elephant’s behaviours, which are more interesting than I would have expected before I read this book.

I’ve read quite a few Jodi Picoult books and enjoy them, despite some of the issues she raises having no happy solution or answer at all, but Leaving Time is a gentler read. It doesn’t even bother me that I sometimes think I am reading the same book over and over, just with a different set of characters and issues to resolve, as I said earlier, sometimes it is comforting to know where you are with an author.

In Leaving Time, there are no nasty dilemmas to ponder over, except for the plight of elephants in captivity. I will never see an elephant in a zoo or away from its natural environment again without feeling terribly sad for the elephant.

I don’t think Leaving Time is one of Jodi Picoult’s best books, but readers who enjoy her work will enjoy Leaving Time.

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